Employee feedback is any information exchanged by employees (formally or informally) regarding their performance, skills, or ability to work within a team. Both supervisors and peers may deliver feedback, and when done tactfully, the process can create a stronger, more harmonious workplace.
Positive and negative feedback is important because it helps break bad habits, reinforces positive behavior, and enables teams to work more effectively toward their goals.
Whatever your role in your company, at some point you’re going to have to give feedback. In my experience, giving praise is easy because everyone loves a nice compliment. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is much harder to deliver… and can be just as challenging to hear.
Keeping quiet may feel like the path of least resistance, but it’ll be harder on you and your colleagues in the long run because the problems will just fester. Rather than taking the easy way out, take a deep breath and use the following strategies when it’s time to speak up.
Have you ever held something in for weeks or months before you finally let someone know what was on your mind? You wouldn’t be the first person to do that, but it’s never the best way to go (trust me, I speak from experience).
When you hold off, minor issues can grow into major ones, and the person receiving the critique is more likely to become defensive if you start pointing out problems that stretch back weeks, months, or years. You’ve also robbed them of the opportunity to make an improvement the entire time you’ve held back your feedback.
Plus, it’s just easier to solve problems when you address them quickly. In the U.S., we call it ‘ripping off the BAND-AID’. The idea is that peeling a BAND-AID off slowly is far more painful (physically and emotionally) than giving it one firm yank.
Of course, don’t be in such a hurry that you send the message via email or text. Written communication carries far less nuance than spoken communication, and in my experience, you can convey more context verbally. That way, they won’t take your words in ways you never intended. Instead, have a live conversation if at all possible (in person, over video chat, or on the phone).
There’s a popular technique for giving constructive criticism called ‘sandwiching’, but it’s one we discourage here at Hotjar. The idea is to layer critiques with compliments so the criticism doesn’t hit so hard.
Honestly? That feels insincere to me, and most people can see through it. At Hotjar, we prefer the Radical Candor approach—and, as proof, here are some of our team members reading the book it’s based on:
Radical Candor is a bestselling book by Kim Scott that has grown into a methodology and a movement. It encourages employees to directly challenge one another, but it asks that you do it with personal care. Challenging without personal care results in ‘obnoxious aggression’, and refusing to challenge can result in ‘ruinous empathy’ or ‘manipulative insincerity’.
So, instead of sandwiching your criticism, give it to them straight… with care!
Let your co-workers know that you’re not criticizing them as a human being, and if you’re their supervisor, make sure they know their job isn’t in danger (unless, of course, their job is at stake… but if that’s the case, in most cases it shouldn’t be the first time you’ve addressed the issue).
There are two ways you could approach employee feedback:
You vs. them: you could sit them down with a stern look on your face and treat the interaction like a zero-sum game, where only one of you will walk away as the winner.
** or **
You + them vs. the issue: you can approach it as a potential win-win, where you come together to address an issue and collectively work to fix it.
Obviously, the latter option offers the greatest opportunity for growth. It provides the psychological safety required to create an open environment, and it paves the way for real change.
When addressing an issue, it’s important to give specific examples of where the problem occurred. Be as precise as possible about when and where you’ve noticed the issue and why it’s problematic.
Here’s an example of vague, non-actionable feedback vs. specific, actionable feedback.
|Vague, non-actionable feedback||Specific, actionable feedback|
|“You’re rude to me during meetings. You’re always trying to one-up me, and you treat me like I’m stupid.”||“Earlier today on the client call you interrupted to question some of the data. At the time, it really seemed to me to throw off the flow of the meeting. In the future, I’d prefer for you not to interrupt the way you did. I value accuracy in data, so could we talk through some options together for how, in the future, we might ensure our data is accurate without interrupting the flow of these client calls?”|
The vague feedback may sound familiar to you because, let’s face it, it’s the way most of us argue. We do it with friends, family, and romantic partners—but it’s rarely productive.
The specific, actionable feedback is far more constructive, and it pushes everyone toward a real solution. That’s what feedback is all about.
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when your boss says, “Can I see you in my office?”
Your brain senses a threat, and your adrenal glands release cortisol (the stress hormone). Blood-flow rushes to the primitive parts of your brain so you’re ready to flee or fight, and your mind closes itself off to new ideas. We’ve all been there, and yet, it’s easy to forget what that feels like when you’re the one who has more power in an interaction.
We should also be aware that there are unconscious biases and unwritten power structures at play in the world. In my case, as a white male who is older than the average Hotjar team member, my words might carry more weight than I realize. While it may be something we don’t always talk about, it’s vital to remember that some groups are afforded more social power than others.
That’s why it’s important to remember your social location as you prepare to provide feedback, especially when you occupy a position of power. Taking this into account helps you better provide psychological safety so you can bring out the best in everyone on your team.